Catalogue description Records of the Hanaper

Details of Division within C
Reference: Division within C
Title: Records of the Hanaper

Records relating to the administration of the Hanaper.

Original letters patent of denization abandoned in the Hanaper Office are in C 97

Date: 1752-1830
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Chancery, Hanaper Office, 1244-1852

Physical description: 1 series
Administrative / biographical background:

Until 1244, the profits of Chancery, the fees received from petitioners, litigants and the purchasers of writs, accrued directly to the chancellor, who presumably made private arrangements for dividing the proceeds between the expenses of office, the Crown, and himself. In that year, however, formal arrangements were made for fees connected with the issue of instruments under the great seal in Chancery to be handled by a Chancery clerk who was responsible for the collection and disbursement of all such monies and for rendering account at the Exchequer. Within a few years, and perhaps immediately, this clerk's office was called the Hanaper, supposedly from the hanaperium or hamper in which the clerk kept (by some accounts) the documents relevant to his office or (alternatively) the monies received.

These arrangements were not entirely permanent. Chancellor Burnell (1274-1292) took his profits under the old system, and until 1324 Hanaper payments were often made into the Wardrobe rather than into the Exchequer. From the mid-fourteenth century at the latest, the clerk of the Hanaper received monies of all kinds, including fines, and collected fees due to, and issued salaries and expenses to, other Chancery clerks. Thereafter the process was fixed and the clerk of the Hanaper was an established member of the Chancery hierarchy (usually, though not always, a clerk of the first grade ranking with the masters); he had by custom a separate office in the palace of Westminster, which was restored after a fire in 1386.

Gradually, as the Hanaper acquired routines and regular practices, the clerkship was supplemented, as early as the reign of Edward I, by an under-clerk or controller, who by the early sixteenth century was the normal executive officer under a principal who might or might not take a direct interest in the workings of his office; clerkship of the Hanaper was by now a position of recognised standing suitable for a man seeking higher preferment in administrative or political circles.

This relatively sinecure status, though dwindling in prestige, remained lucrative; originally, the postholder was paid a basic retainer, with supplementary fees when attendance on the chancellor was required, but this was gradually superseded by a salary and allowances amounting, by the eighteenth century, to £400 a year plus expenses. The opportunities for unofficial fees were substantial, as reflected in the purchase of the office for £2,400 in 1622, and the official emoluments of the last clerk were calculated at £2,266 a year. The office of clerk of the Hanaper was abolished in 1832, and the controller of the Hanaper followed likewise in 1842, although the abolitions did not fully take effect until 1852.

The clerk of the Hanaper was, in effect, the treasurer of Chancery. He registered, and received the due fees for, all patents, commissions, and other grants that passed under the great seal; in some cases he received the fines paid for the grants themselves, as well as sundry fees which became payable into Chancery, such as fines for the restoration of temporalities, or for statutes staple. He also received and accounted for, though he did not directly collect, the fees payable for writs sued out of the royal courts. He also collected the fees due for enrolments in Chancery. From these receipts were paid the various salaries and fixed fees due to Chancery officials, together with the running expenses of the department. The residue passed into the Exchequer, and the clerk of the Hanaper was required to render full accounts there annually.

The clerk of the Hanaper (or his deputy) was responsible for the physical custody of grants under the great seal once they had passed all other processes but before they were delivered to the grantees; delivery to the parties was contingent on the payment of all due fees, and for this reason some originals were (and remain) unclaimed. In 1515 the bulk of uncollected patents and letters close were cancelled, but some others, before and since that date, survive.

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